Most Gen-Xers recognize Kevin Nealon for his nine-season stint at SNL beginning in 1986, playing characters such as Mr. Subliminal and Franz (of Hans and Franz) opposite Dana Carvey and anchoring Weekend Update.
Lately, his small screen and big screen appearances have been vast and varied, including a recurring character on TV’s Weeds and Still Standing, and in the films Happy Gilmore, Anger Management, Little Nicky, and Daddy Day Care.
For two years Nealon has had a regular online streaming interview show, Hiking With Kevin, videoed while walking on trails, with guests as Howie Mandel, Rob Lowe, Jeff Goldblum and Jack Black.
His profile as a comedian initially received a major boost in 1984 when he made his first network appearance, on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. His upcoming comedy tour will include several Ontario venues, Apr. 23-28.
The 65-year-old funnyman’s verbal versatility will be at play, where he will – to paraphrase his character Franz – “pump… you up” with laughter.
Pursuit caught up with Nealon, asking him all about his strange and wild world:
What kind of things will you be riffing on for your new stand-up tour?
Kevin Nealon: I have a potpourri of options to choose from. I’ve been writing a lot of new material and exploring different avenues to, kind of, reflect my own life. Also, maybe some local flavour. I love doing stand-up, and it’s always different when I get up. Canada is always inspiring to me – getting outside the mould.
Why is Canada different for you?
Kevin Nealon: Because I can just feel it in my bones.
You can feel the cold in your bones?
Kevin Nealon: Well, I can feel that in the winter, that’s why I’m coming up in April. By the way, Canada is probably the coldest place I’ve ever been to. And I’ve been to the most northern part of the continent in Alaska, and I’ve been in Ohio, in polar winter. But Montreal and that area in the winter – I couldn’t even breathe, it was so cold.
So, do you have a method when you come up with jokes?
Kevin Nealon: Not really one method. There are a lot of different ways of doing it. Being on stage and riffing with the audience is one way. Another way is sitting down at a desk thinking up topics and writing them out, trying to formulate jokes. Another is being with friends – having a conversation in a restaurant or at a party and coming up with something. That’s pretty much the way.
Also, stealing. I like to steal jokes too.
You’ve been doing this for a long time –when you recollect, what goes through your mind?
Kevin Nealon: I kind of pat myself on the back now as that person back then on the Tonight Show – how scared I was and I still did it, how excited I was, and I got through it and did well. I just think back at how brave I must have been to have done that, and how terrified I was. That’s what I think about.
Also, SNL, doing that for the first time, I remember Lorne Michaels standing next to me and we were five seconds away from me doing my first sketch. He turned to me, trying to be funny, put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Are you sure this is what you want?’
Lorne is also Canadian, as an aside.
Kevin Nealon: By the way, a lot of people think I’m a Canadian for some reason because I’m from Connecticut and a comedian. So, they put those two together for some reason.
You are close! There’s some border stuff going on, plus or minus.
Kevin Nealon: And a lot of comedians are from Canada.
I guess all you can do in Canada is make jokes when you’re getting frostbitten?
Topical, these days, that people are saying you can tell certain jokes, but others you can’t. You risk offending. Thoughts?
Kevin Nealon: I don’t think anything is off limits. It’s how you do it – broach the subject. I think some comics have more of a knack for saying them because the audience comes to expect it – Bill Burr will talk about the #metoo movement, or Ellen will talk about LGBT. Some people are more comfortable with other people talking about subjects than not. But I do think it is all about how you construct the joke, whether you offend someone or not.
Can comedy be taught or is it a talent?
Kevin Nealon: I guess you have to define comedy. I’ve seen comics that are more actors than comics, then they get on stage and they deliver them and they get laughs. So, people are laughing at their jokes. I think a good comic can repeat that inner soulfulness of humour – it is inherent. I think of someone like Richard Pryor, who had that. Then, you have someone like Steve Martin who is very serious off stage. But when he’s onstage he’s a funny guy. It’s like two different people.
You’ve made so many iconic characters from SNL. Do you have a favourite?
Kevin Nealon: I kind of like the character – I think it was in the last season – called ‘The Bathroom Attendant’. He didn’t even have a name. I worked in a very small bathroom in a restaurant, one toilet, no stall, and I was the bathroom attendant. There was barely enough room for one person in there. Harvey Keitel was hosting, and he had to use the bathroom, and I was his bathroom attendant. That was probably my favourite. I did enjoy Mr. Subliminal, Weekend Update, but it’s not like I had a ton of characters.
Pick one person, present or past, that would be your dream hiking partner.
Kevin Nealon: Leonardo DaVinci. Because I think he was such a Renaissance man, and so smart. He had so many ideas and I’d love to hear how he came up with them, and what he thought about hiking, and if he has any ideas for a better hiking boot.
Your Twitter handle says you’re an ‘accommodator/apologist.’ What is that?
Kevin Nealon: A people-pleaser, basically.
I wrote that a long time ago. I probably don’t know what it is either. I just accommodate people often. I’m not a good apologist, but I’ve become a better apologist.
That’s very Canadian of you.
Kevin Nealon: The secret to apologizing is the quicker you do it, the better off you are. The longer you wait, the more you have to put into your apology.
A friend of mine said, ‘A great way to get out of an argument is to state your case, and then end with ‘but you might be right’
What’s a funny word to you?
Kevin Nealon: I think ‘mulberry’ is a funny word. ‘Rural’ is a funny word.
Ever hear of ‘farblonjet’? It’s the Yiddish version of FUBAR. That’s a funny word, too.
Kevin Nealon: There are a lot of Yiddish words that are funny. I think most of them are funny.
That would be a good act. Just recite a lot of Yiddish words.
When you are not working, what are your passions?
Kevin Nealon: I like to sketch, draw. I have an Instagram site called Kevin Nealon Art Work and I post all my doodles on there. I also like playing the guitar and banjo. I’m learning how to play the piano too. My latest passion, though, is salsa dancing. I’ve been taking salsa dancing classes.
Why did you decide to take it up?
Kevin Nealon: Whenever I’ve been at an event and there is dancing, and they play Salsa music, there are a few people who know how to dance Salsa. The moves are entertaining, and look fun to do. We just came back from Cuba and had taken some Salsa lessons there. I know Canadians go to Cuba a lot, but for us, it’s new and exciting. I got a lesson from this guy who was also a security guard for the restaurant. They didn’t have any women, there so I learned from a security guard.
You were bumping and grinding with a 324lb. security guard dude. Great for your Instagram.
Kevin Nealon: He was actually a 6 foot tall African American guy, who was a really good dancer. Salsa, I like that; and the music, and piano.
Would you go on Dancing With the Stars?
Kevin Nealon: It’s funny, I was asked to go on Dancing with the Stars about 12 years ago. I remember at the time I was doing interviews on the radio saying, ‘You don’t want to do that. It’s terrible for your career’. Then I see those DJs on Dancing with the Stars. But they were right, I didn’t want to do it at the time. I don’t think I have the stamina to do the show.
You sound disappointed.
Yeah, I want to see Kevin Nealon do some salsa!
Kevin Nealon: I don’t think I’m a good dancer. I see videos where I think I’m good and then …
Anyway, back to hiking. What’s a big wow on the show?
Kevin Nealon: The interesting thing about it is the people, when they are outside like that, let down their guard a lot. They are a lot more open than they would be sitting at their desk in a studio with an audience.
They are pretty revealing about things. I remember hiking with Conan O’Brien and he was talking about how anxiety runs in his family and has been a problem for him for a long time. That, and just finding out about people. Tiffany Haddish, hearing about her mother who is committed in an asylum, and how she had to be a mother to her brothers and sisters.
Caitlin Jenner was fun too.
What was Caitlin like to interview?
Kevin Nealon: My favourite question to ask her was ‘Caitlin if you could change one thing about yourself, what would you change?’
And she said?
Kevin Nealon: She didn’t get it. She said, ‘Maybe my nose?’ Then she laughed, and she got it.